Category Archives: New Zealand

Ancient Maori mtDNA

Terry points me to this paper:
Michael Knapp et al., Complete mitochondrial DNA genome sequences from the first New Zealanders. PNAS 2012. Open access ··> LINK [doi:]


The dispersal of modern humans across the globe began ∼65,000 y ago when people first left Africa and culminated with the settlement of East Polynesia, which occurred in the last 1,000 y. With the arrival of Polynesian canoes only 750 y ago, Aotearoa/New Zealand became the last major landmass to be permanently settled by humans. We present here complete mitochondrial genome sequences of the likely founding population of Aotearoa/New Zealand recovered from the archaeological site of Wairau Bar. These data represent complete mitochondrial genome sequences from ancient Polynesian voyagers and provide insights into the genetic diversity of human populations in the Pacific at the time of the settlement of East Polynesia.

The authors sequenced ancient mtDNA from the pre-colonial period from a museum material being returned for proper reburial. The remains belong to a population from Wairau Bar from the 13th-14th centuries, which were looted by British museums in the mid 20th century. 
Of the 19 individuals researched, only four provided valid sequences. All four Three were within the so-called Polynesian motif or haplogroup B4a1a1a, the other was Q1, a lineage of Melanesian origin also found, albeit rarely, among other Polynesians. All modern studied Maoris are B4a1a1a but Q1 is known to exist among Cook Islanders, for example. (Corrected: Q1 is mentioned but in the context of other Polynesian populations, not New Zealand).

Interestingly the authors also explain that the colonization of Eastern Polynesia was performed not in a series of small randomized migrations but in a single expansive wave in the 12th-13th centuries CE, what explains the relative homogeneity of their customs and languages. 

A recent reevaluation of the dates for the colonization of East Polynesia suggests that, contrary to earlier studies positing a relatively long (2,000 y) chronology for the region, the settlement of most of East Polynesia occurred rapidly, in the period from A.D. ∼1190–1290 (22). The authors determined that the expansion event occurred from the Society Islands, which were only settled 70–265 y previously. This rapid and recent expansion event, they argue, explains the “remarkable uniformity of East Polynesian culture, human biology and language” (22).

The cited reference (22) is:

Wilmshurst JM, Hunt TL, Lipo CP, Anderson AJ (2011) High-precision radiocarbon dating shows recent and rapid initial human colonization of East Polynesia. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 108(5):1815–1820.


Posted by on October 24, 2012 in aDNA, mtDNA, New Zealand, Oceania, Polynesians


Maoris burnt New Zealand forests.

I mentioned some days ago that now it seems that early Australians did not cause widespread fires (against what was typically believed so far). On the contrary, now it seems that early New Zealanders (Maoris) did cause them. 
At least in the Southern Island, where much of the lowland forest was destroyed to make room for farming upon colonization (slash and burn farming). 
Full story at Science Daily (no study link provided).

Update: Terry suggests (see comments) that no farming proper was done in the South Island because tropical crops (taro, sweet potato) could not be grown. Instead Maoris there used the land to grow a local fern with an edible rhizome that made up for the crops and grew spontaneously in the burnt land.

However all I can find in regard to Maori use of this fern is that they treated it as a crop: preparing the land by slash-and-burn, because the best rhizomes grow only in rich soils. It’s not any mere gathering of foodstuff spontaneously growing. 

Posted by on December 16, 2010 in ecology, Neolithic, New Zealand, Oceania